Donor centrism has become a rallying cry in the Jewish philanthropic giving space. For many modern donors, the ability to see the impact of their funds is essential to their charitable involvement.
This results-driven mindset marks a shift from the more hands-off approach taken by prior generations, in which individuals relied on central institutions to take their unrestricted donations and allocate them to the most critical community needs.
Each tack has its advantages. The modern frame has a sense of visceral engagement; the causes and organizations that donors support come to have a close and personal meaning. Donors watch a direct line from their giving to change enacted in the world around them. There is gratification in this kind of philanthropy that encourages donors to continue to engage because the reward is so readily apparent.
The ethos more common previously takes a wider perspective and avoids missing the forest for the trees. In giving broadly, donors enable the professionals in organizations and institutions to distribute their contributions, rather than making decisions based on an organization’s marketing or other more superficial factors. In this way, causes that are less “sexy” and less obviously appealing, but no less strategically important, continue to be funded. This is particularly important in meeting the needs of invisible, indigent, and needy community members who may be far away from donors’ personal involvement.
As donors continue to move toward a preference for the intimate experience of making personalized decisions and lose the comprehensive view that a broader, more community-minded perspective allowed, our philanthropic agencies and institutions must make a concerted effort to accommodate this shift and the associated tradeoffs.
One of the best ways to preserve the newfound push for donor centrism without allowing certain causes and institutions to lose support is to promote communication and synergy across existing organizations. Leaders from the organizations that thrive in this new paradigm (i.e., those organizations that donors support because giving to them has a clear and immediate impact) have the responsibility and opportunity to assist and encourage those organizations that may lag behind, or be less directly appealing to donors.
As Jewish organizations and institutions in a close-knit community, we are all intimately connected to one another. The success of each one of us depends on the success of the others. As Rabbi Hillel teaches us, “If I am only for myself, who am I?”
Unity in our Southern Arizona Jewish community can take many different forms. One of the explicit purposes of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona is to bring our wider community together to strengthen our bonds. In this way, we advance a broader view. Our Federation works every day to accomplish this goal through fundraising, events, planning, communal services, and engagement.
The Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona provides a place for philanthropic giving to be centralized. This is in line with a more donor-directed model of philanthropy. At JCF, donor-centric giving is elevated to a sacred undertaking. Our community members are empowered to support the individual causes they care about, both within and beyond our community. At the same time, JCF partners with donors to inform them of critical needs and opportunities emerging in our community.
Both the JFSA and JCF are deeply connected with and committed to the other Jewish agencies and synagogues in Southern Arizona and meeting the needs of Jews in Israel and around the world. Together, they form the philanthropic backbone of a powerful support system that has sustained our community for generations.
It is no accident that the JFSA and the JCF are housed in the same building, the Harvey and Deanna Evenchik Center for Jewish Philanthropy. This simple integration of two powerful, important organizations allows for the flow of ideas from one organization to the other. Resources as basic as kitchens and as complex as professional and volunteer brainpower are shared on a daily basis. The strengths of the two agencies come together to complement and advance one another.
The more that these two organizations — and, indeed, the rest of the agencies in Southern Arizona — integrate their ideas and even share their spaces, the more that we all learn from each other and create an environment in which all of our organizations are able to flourish and thrive.
Graham Hoffman, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, will helm both the JCF and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona as we celebrate the retirement of JFSA president and CEO Stuart Mellan in the coming months.